Five reasons Arsenal should be confident against Napoli

Napoli

Arsenal face Napoli in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Stadio San Paolo tonight, but the Gunners shouldn't fear the Partenopei.

Barring a three-goal defeat against Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo, Arsenal will progress in the Champions League and their opponents don't look likely to inflict that fate on them.

While a trip to Naples can be intimidating and Arsenal will still have their last disastrous trip to Italy - a 4-0 loss to AC Milan - somewhere in the back of their minds, this should be a very different story.

Here are five reasons for Arsenal to feel confident as they take on Napoli.

Napoli's indefensible defence

Napoli are leaking goals and have a history of doing so in Europe. Rafa Benitez's men conspired to draw 3-3 with Udinese last weekend in a game they twice led. Udinese took full advantage of some slack defending which Arsenal would expect to punish severely.

The Azzurri have a tendency to concede in Europe. They have let in at least one goal in their last 14 European outings and gave away two against  Marseille at the San Paolo earlier in their campaign. 

Benitez's injury woes

The loss of Marek Hamsik is a significant worry for Napoli. The Slovakian playmaker was enjoying an excellent season before picking up a foot injury and it remains to be seen whether Valon Behrami, Gokhan Inler and Dries Mertens can create enough.

Behrami isn't 100 percent himself due to a foot problem and goalkeeper Pepe Reina was a doubt until earlier in the week.

Over-dependence on Higuain

Napoli are putting the weight of their hopes on Gonzalo Higuain. The club's owner Aurelio De Laurentiis publicly called on the Argentine striker to be the hero against Arsenal - the club who nearly signed him in the summer.

However, Higuain has never scored against an English team in the Champions League and may be left isolated if Arsenal can conquer the midfield in this battle of the 4-2-3-1 formations.

Fortress San Paolo?

The Stadio San Paolo can be a tough place to visit, but it has also been an unforgiving environment for home players in recent weeks.

Napoli were booed and jeered during their 3-3 draw with Udinese and prior to that their 1-0 loss to Parma. While Benitez insists the fans will be a 12th man, they could easily turn on their side if things go badly.

Napoli have everything to lose

Benitez stressed in his pre-match press conference that Napoli have 'nothing to lose'. The ex-Chelsea boss may be a master of spin, but even he can't believe that having labelled this match 'the game of the year' a matter of weeks ago.

Napoli's Serie A title challenge has faded and they now trail Juventus by a probably unassailable eight points after a series of slip-ups - many in the Italian press are labelling this a 'crisis' and this game could pile the pressure on Benitez whose honeymoon period is coming to an end.

image: © luigig

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